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Update on Teaching and Learning for 2020/21 academic year

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Message from Pro-Vice-Chancellors (Education & Student Experience) Elizabeth McCrum and Julian Park

Dear colleagues,

Further to our last update, we can now share with you the new Teaching & Learning framework for autumn 2020, informed by a wealth of feedback, ideas and suggestions from our consultation with colleagues and from national insights into current and prospective student attitudes.

Term will start as planned on Monday 28 September, with this being the first week of teaching for the majority of undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes. There are a small number of exceptions, including some Institute of Education courses which will start earlier in September (as usual) and taught postgraduate programmes in Henley Business School which will start two weeks later.

Like you, we are committed to providing the best possible experience for our students from the start of the 2020/21 academic year. However, we are mindful of both the need to protect the safety of our whole community and to adhere to evolving government guidelines and travel restrictions, both here and overseas. This means that the new academic year will be different, with a necessary focus on providing a supportive, flexible and quality learning environment for those on campus, as well as for those who need to continue to study remotely.

Autumn 2020 T&L framework – balancing online delivery with interactive teaching

When we moved to ‘emergency’ remote teaching at the end of the spring term, all of us – colleagues and students alike – were studying and working at a distance. For the start of the new term, while we intend to offer face-to-face activity on campus (subject to government restrictions), as national and international restrictions evolve, our students are likely to be spread across three geographical groups, each with differing needs:  

        a. physically present (living on campus or locally);  

        b. remote but in the UK or a close time zone; 

        c. remote and in a significantly different time zone from the UK. 

The aim of the autumn term framework is to ensure our students feel connected to the University, by fostering a sense of belonging to both their learning community and wider campus life. To facilitate this in terms of student teaching and learning we propose four key elements.


  1. Core content that would normally be delivered via lectures is provided digitally to all students, whether they are on campus or working remotely. It is anticipated that this will be asynchronous (for example, screencasts) to enable students to review the materials in their own time and to ensure live sessions are used to best effect to facilitate interactive discussion (as outlined in point 2).
  2. Alongside this lecture content, interactive sessions will be scheduled to allow students to develop and apply their understanding of the topic with their lecturer and with one another. In the majority of cases this will be through face-to-face sessions physically on campus (subject to government restrictions and our commitment to protect the health and safety of our community) but they will need to be complemented by online activities for those studying remotely.  These sessions will be similar in format and frequency to the seminars and workshops that already exist in many disciplines, but may require additional educational activities to be developed to enhance students’ learning experience.
  3. Formative and summative assessments should encourage a degree of interaction, to promote connectivity wherever possible. For example, this could include group work or presentations.
  4. Enhanced academic support should be provided to all students at a programme and module level, whether on campus or working remotely. This support package should consider particular themes at relevant points in the term, including induction and orientation, welcoming back returning students, creating or maintaining programme cohort identity, module support and making best use of the Academic Tutor System.


A more detailed version of the framework is available on the University website (please log in with your username and password), and we will publish more details shortly of the range of technologies and training that are available to support the framework.

We also intend to write to all students and applicants in the coming days to share these plans about the start of term and delivery of teaching this autumn. We will share copies of the student email with Heads of School, SDTLs and SDATs and publish a copy on the Essentials webpages with all other previous student communications. We ask that you please use these as templates for any local School communications to ensure consistency of our messaging and if you are unsure about any of the detail of the framework, please speak to your Teaching & Learning Dean.

Creating capacity

While colleagues have been very supportive of these proposals during our consultations, we do not underestimate the significant work required to deliver teaching in this way. We have already taken steps to create more capacity centrally e.g. through the review of QA processes, the review of the Extenuating Circumstances process, and the appraisal of structures and processes that support T&L. However, it is clear that we will need to do more in the immediate term to support education and the student experience.  

As a broad-based and diverse institution, it is important that we develop a range of measures to be applied as appropriate to local contexts and circumstances.  After discussions with our UEB colleagues and the Leadership Group, a number of temporary measures have been suggested that will help to create capacity prior to and during the coming year. We will support Schools to introduce the options they feel are most appropriate in their contexts, rather than applying a University-wide approach. A more detailed overview of these mechanisms for creating capacity will be shared with colleagues shortly.

This approach will ensure that we can continue core teaching to the best of our ability, to minimise the impact of this situation on our students’ learning experiences and manage staff workloads. It is also vital to protect the University’s financial position and, therefore, all our activities in the longer term. 

Welcome Week

Welcome Week will go ahead as planned in the week starting Monday 21 September. Understandably this will need to be in a different format from previous years and we will keep you updated when we have more information to share.

We hope this update has been helpful to give you a better sense of the plans and priorities for the coming weeks and months. We are very grateful to all colleagues who have shared their feedback about online teaching and assessment with us so far. While the measures implemented for the spring and summer terms were done at incredibly short notice, the lessons we have learnt will help us to put robust and effective mechanisms in place to meet our students’ varied learning needs in the medium and, perhaps, even longer term. Indeed, we have seen fantastic examples of creative teaching since we switched to online provision, some of which will hopefully become embedded into our core programme design once the immediate needs of responding to the pandemic have subsided.

We continue to welcome your reflections and, alongside close liaison with RUSU to seek the views of students, we look forward to working together to overcome these challenges.

Thank you, once again, for all of your support.

Best wishes,

Elizabeth & Julian

Pro-Vice-Chancellors (Education & Student Experience)


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